cape player

A South African col­lec­tor’s art-crammed house in Bo-kaap

Wallpaper - - Contents - pho­tog­ra­phy: Adam letch writer: Sean o’toole

A South African col­lec­tor’s Bo-kaap sky­pad

The slop­ing sub­urbs hug­ging Cape Town’s his­toric cen­tre are home to a mo­saic of ar­chi­tec­tural styles, but rare is the build­ing that de­fies com­mon ty­polo­gies. Cape Dutch, Vic­to­rian and art deco homes still pre­dom­i­nate in tony neigh­bour­hoods such as Oran­jezicht and Tam­boer­skloof, while the luxe new villas in Hig­govale are re­ally up­dated in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Palm Springs mod­ernism. Even Bo-kaap, where art col­lec­tor Michael Fitzger­ald re­cently built his ex­tro­vert cu­bist liv­ing space, is a mu­seum to long-ago styles.

Once known as the Malay Quar­ter, in ref­er­ence to Mus­lim in­hab­i­tants of­ten de­scended from slaves, Bo-kaap is best known for its spicy cui­sine and brightly coloured Cape Dutch and Ge­or­gian ter­race homes. ‘Be­ing a Scots­man I al­ways wanted to live in a cas­tle,’ says Fitzger­ald of the rec­ti­lin­ear struc­ture he opted to build on a va­cant plot on the ritzier edge of this his­tor­i­cally work­ing-class neigh­bour­hood.

Fitzger­ald, who was born in Trinidad and fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps as an oil­man be­fore segu­ing into modelling, and later art deal­ing, drew in­spi­ra­tion from Tadao Ando’s early do­mes­tic ar­chi­tec­ture when com­pos­ing his brief. His favourite Ando build­ing is Azuma House (1976), a win­dow­less house in Osaka. As­sid­u­ously quar­an­tined from its neigh­bours by high con­crete walls, the house has an ex­posed court­yard con­nect­ing two liv­ing ar­eas. ‘You al­ways risk get­ting cold or wet,’ says Fitzger­ald. ‘It is ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous.’

Cape Town’s ver­ti­cal­ity is an an­ti­dote to Osaka’s flood­plain flat­ness. The views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains from the up­per two floors of Fitzger­ald’s mixed-use build­ing also clar­ify the home’s nick­name, ‘Sky­pad’. Lo­cal firm Team Ar­chi­tects, whose stu­dio is now lo­cated on the first and sec­ond floors, su­per­vised the de­sign. This is their third project for Fitzger­ald.

Although a new build on a va­cant plot, the Bo-kaap prop­erty had its chal­lenges. The site is bounded on three sides by ex­ist­ing her­itage build­ings. ‘One of the key things for us was to cre­ate sim­ple pro­por­tions on the street façade,’ says Team Ar­chi­tects’ Philip Stiekema. The cuboid form with ex­truded el­e­ments ris­ing over the con­gested Buiten­gracht Street may look at odds with the ad­ja­cent mix of shabby res­i­dences and in­dus­trial build­ings, but its struc­ture is rooted in the ar­chi­tec­tural lines of the neigh­bour­hood’s older homes, says the ar­chi­tect.

While Ando is Fitzger­ald’s chief ref­er­ence point, Stiekema also drew in­spi­ra­tion from the in­ven­tive ma­te­ri­al­ity and sculp­tural qual­i­ties of Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Carlo Scarpa’s work. ‘We tried to avoid the high­way grey of ag­gre­gate con­crete by push­ing the colour mix,’ says Stiekema of the ox­i­dised tone of the new

build­ing. ‘The driv­ing force of the de­sign, though, is its spa­tial, struc­tural and for­mal com­plex­ity, and our at­tempt to syn­the­sise all these things in a de­sign char­ac­terised by its po­lite­ness.’ The last word is care­fully cho­sen. In the past year, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion protests have be­come more com­mon in Bo-kaap. Af­ter nearly three cen­turies, the neigh­bour­hood’s tra­di­tional Mus­lim in­hab­i­tants are slowly be­ing squeezed out as de­vel­op­ers move in. Both Fitzger­ald and Stiekema are aware of the cur­rent sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

Fitzger­ald, a well-built man of 61 with a brush cut, leads me from his open-plan kitchen, past a Su­danese wood sculp­ture adorned with a beaded neck­lace from Nige­ria, onto his sun-kissed ter­race that in sum­mer is shielded from the Cape’s vi­cious south-east winds. He points to an enor­mous de­vel­op­ment higher up the slope of Sig­nal Hill. It is one of three large-scale devel­op­ments, Stiekema later tells me when we speak, that have run roughshod over the com­mu­nity. ‘The up­heaval is very com­plex and speaks to an un­heard frus­tra­tion,’ says Stiekema, who has been a Bo-kaap res­i­dent since 1991. His team worked closely with Cape Town’s her­itage depart­ment on the new build­ing to avoid any com­mu­nity is­sues. The only push­back Fitzger­ald has re­ceived since tak­ing oc­cu­pa­tion was a snarky com­ment by a lo­cal youth.

The podium de­sign of the Sky­pad in­cor­po­rates off-street park­ing on the ground floor (a manda­tory plan­ning re­quire­ment) as well as a small gallery show­cas­ing Fitzger­ald’s hold­ings of tra­di­tional African art. ‘I can say I am an ex­pert now, but I wasn’t when I started out two decades ago,’ Fitzger­ald says of his ca­reer trad­ing wood sculp­ture from equa­to­rial Africa. ‘You’d buy things you thought were real only to find out they weren’t.’ Stock-in-trade African arte­facts are stored in a mod­est stor­age area down a flight of stairs. ‘I don’t keep things piled up in cup­boards. I’m not a hoarder,’ says Fitzger­ald, whose tastes ex­tend from tra­di­tional African art to work by con­tem­po­rary South African artists, many as­so­ci­ated with Cape Town’s Blank and Steven­son gal­leries. ‘I don’t ever de­lib­er­ately buy some­thing to sell. I will buy it if I like it, in the knowl­edge that one day it will move on. You get African art deal­ers who have thou­sands of pieces, but I am quite min­i­mal­ist in my ap­proach to it all.’

Fitzger­ald, who also con­sults, be­gan col­lect­ing con­tem­po­rary art while liv­ing in Lon­don in the 1980s. His go-to gallery was Joshua and Kitty Bowler’s Cru­cial Gallery, an ex­per­i­men­tal space on Por­to­bello Road that cham­pi­oned raw work in me­tals and found ma­te­ri­als. The sleeper-wood bench and ta­ble in the din­ing area is a re­minder of this ear­lier phase in his col­lect­ing.

A no­table fea­ture of the vo­lu­mi­nous liv­ing area is the grated steel walk­way over­head, which con­nects the two en-suite be­d­rooms, with an ad­di­tional sec­tion lead­ing to a swim­ming pool. It too re­calls a younger mo­ment in Fitzger­ald’s jour­ney: ‘The oil rigs chased me all the way here,’ he laughs. ‘This is what I’m used to. They are un­com­fort­able to walk on, but tough.’

‘I don’t de­lib­er­ately buy some­thing to sell. I will buy it if I like it, know­ing one day it will move on’

Above, Fitzger­ald’s study, which looks across the city to Ta­ble Moun­tain. On the left wall is a work by his favourite Cape Town artist, Ja­cob van Schalk­wyk. On the book­shelf is a dis­play of ‘Drunken Brick­lay­ers’ glass vases by Ge­of­frey Bax­ter, as well as ten wooden ‘com­pan­ion’ pieces sourced from Congo, Gabon and the Ivory Coast. His work desk is a 1961 piece by Nanna Ditzel

Below, the gallery space with mid­cen­tury pieces, wooden stat­ues from equa­to­rial Africa and, on the wall, a work by lo­cal artist Jan-henri Booyens

Left, mid­cen­tury glass­ware, and a work by Cape Town artist Con­rad Botes, oil-based paint on re­versed glass

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